Largesse is not a word we use often. In fact, most of us have no clue that it means, “generosity in bestowing gifts upon others.” While the word is distant, it bears great relevance to the life of a Christ follower.
I was reintroduced to the word and its accompanying concept when I recently reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I probably read this book twelve times as a child, but the story struck me in different places as an adult.
Sara, a formerly doted-upon and beloved daughter now orphaned, fights to remember her identity even as she lives as a starving maid in a decrepit attic.
“If I was a princess – a real princess, ” she murmured, “I could scatter largess to the populace. But even if I am only a pretend princess, I can invent little things to do for people…I’ll pretend that to do things people like is like scattering largess. I’ve scattered largess.”
Sara lives faithfully scattering her largess despite her poverty. After she is adopted by a wealthy neighbor, she continues to show largess.
The Largesse of the Lord
Long before the 12th century when the word became popularly used, the Triune God has been living with largesse.
Creation itself is an incredible act of largesse, an overflow of the fullness of love and creativity within the three persons of the Trinity (Gen. 1:27-28).
God’s early act of sacrificing an animal to clothe our fig-laden forebears is an act of largesse (Gen. 3: 21).
God’s promise-pregnant initiation toward Abram who lived in a city of moon-worshippers was an act of largesse (Gen. 12: 1-3).
God’s continued covenant keeping toward a continually covenant-breaking people was largesse (Ex. 34: 6-9).
I could go on and on about the Lord’s acts of largesse, as his every interaction with his fallen humanity is an act of mercy. However, his largesse culminates in his lowering of himself to us in the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God emptied himself of the glory that enabled his largesse (John 17:1-2). He became a servant and did exactly what the little princess Sara Crews sought to do (Phil. 2: 1-11). He lived with largesse out of perfect obedience to the Father. Even when he was starving in the wilderness and being tempted by his Father’s sworn enemy, he responded as one who knew his true identity as the Son of God, the prince of peace (Luke 4).
God, the Father, showed largesse in sending God, the Son. God, the Son showed largesse in sending God, the Holy Spirit to be with us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (John 14: 15-21).
Learning to Live in His Largesse
I know these realities factually and theologically (clearly, I just spouted out a few examples). But I have still often lived like an orphaned pauper. I have forgotten that I have full access to the abundance of God (which is intended not to be hoarded selfishly but rather to shed abroad in smaller acts of largesse).
I am learning that I don’t look like the Lord in his tendencies towards largesse because I am wildly uncomfortable with receiving his largesse. It’s hard to let him hold my gaze. It’s exposing to sit under such a steady and powerful stream of love. It feels vulnerable to be delighted in without protective layers of self-justification or merit to shield me from the warmth of such love.
But he keeps pulling me in, gently and patiently. He keeps loving me an everlasting love, and such love is slowly shaping me. I am more aware of my entitlement which arrogantly sees his acts of largesse as a form of payment I think I have earned.I am more aware of the small little acts of largesse I used to not notice (a particularly beautiful flower, a sweet smile from one of my sons, a hawk soaring overhead).
Lately, I am blown away by this act of his largesse: he is helping me live in his largesse. And it is a spacious place, no matter how tightening or trying circumstances.